“Nope. Can’t help. I’ve done my time at church.” This rebuttal to my request for volunteer help, left me fumbling for words. I stumbled out something like, “Okay, well, I’ll be sure to take you off my call list for the future.”
For the next few minutes, I engaged in a conversation with the air spouting things like, “Done my time? DONE MY TIME? So, being involved in ministries is a prison sentence?” Worse yet, this wasn’t my first time to hear this reason for not serving.
Several folks patiently explained to me that people under age 50 should carry the load of volunteer church ministry. Funny thing is, I received better responses from folks 65-70 and older who couldn’t necessarily get down on a floor with kids but eagerly served at funeral lunches, contributed baked goods, set up classrooms, washed nursery toys, folded bulletins, tended grounds, and performed many other necessary tasks, faithfully. Their kids? Not so much.
In America, we are witnessing the daily passing of the folks labeled “The Greatest Generation.” These are fighters that survived the Great Depression and World War II and then created an epic boom in our nation’s economy and population. The youngest age of this generation is currently 94 years old. Back in my volunteer recruitment days, they were in their sixties and seventies.
This age group’s values merit a closer look from younger generations, specifically in the ways they contributed the valuable resource of time. Hardships during their formative years, formed steadfast, self-sacrificing characters. It’s impossible to calculate the world-wide impact of those who left families, careers and homeland to serve and die in places as far-flung as the beaches of Normandy and the Japanese prison camps of the Philippines. Men and women on the Homefront, endured family separations, rationings and shortages. Many women left their homes and young children to take grueling jobs in factories producing military supplies, all for the greater cause. Ultimately, many families made the supreme sacrifice of losing their loved ones in battlefields abroad.
When World War II ended, these courageous people continued the same sacrificial mindset into their homes, workplaces, communities and their churches. Sometimes, I’ve shared volunteerism refusals that I’ve heard, with friends from my grandparent’s generation. Their reactions are typically a head-shaking, incredulous disbelief. You see, for them, serving was never about what was comfortable or fit into their schedule. For the “Greatest Generation,” it’s always been about finding significance through meeting other’s needs. That sounds a lot like the kingdom of God to me.
Meanwhile, many people in my age range, the “Baby Boomers,” are still searching for significance in their lives. Sadder yet, many of us, in our attempts to provide better lives for our children, dubbed “The Millenials,” unintentionally communicated to them, that the world spins for their sole pleasure. The result is that most church’s volunteer ministries are grossly understaffed. Ask any pastor. Here’s a few “reasons” for not serving, that came to me over the years, and not just by one or two folks, either. You can’t make this stuff up.
“I’ve got (aerobics, pottery, knitting, photography) class on Wednesday nights.”
“Our family spends the weekends traveling for (fill in band, soccer, etc.) and we just need to come to church and rest on Sundays. Well, Wednesday doesn’t work either cause the kids all have practices.” (or rehearsals or clubs, etc. etc.)
“Well, we like to go up to our cottage most weekends, May through October. When we do come to church, we just want to sit in the service and enjoy our church family.”
Now, hear my heart, none of these mentioned activities are evil, of themselves. The activities are not to blame. We are the ones who rank them more highly than we ought. I am so proud of my parents putting up a boundary during my high school years that inspired other parents to follow suit. My brothers and I could be part of teams, clubs, plays, etc. if it didn’t interfere with our Wednesday and Sunday service attendance. The director of our high school plays changed rehearsal schedules when I, and other Christ-following friends, shared our parents’ boundaries with him. We took a risk that could have knocked us out of something we really loved for something greater. It felt awkward and embarrassing at the time, but thank God, my parents placed high value on stewarding our time. My brothers engaged in exhausting football and marching band practices and rehearsals but didn’t skip youth group or sleep in late on Sundays and miss Sunday school.
When did faithful ministry and church attendance fall so low on our priority lists, that we only serve when it fits around all our other pursuits?
If you’re squirming as you read, understand there’s no judgement coming from me. I’m a strong believer in God’s sowing and reaping principles. What you might be feeling, if this post is troubling you, is the Holy Spirit encouraging you to take a fresh look at your schedule and priorities.
The battle lines between good and evil are becoming starker as the day of Christ’s return approaches. We are called to advance the kingdom, which takes time, quality time. To close, here’s another parable I’d like to share to help you understand Jesus’ perspective on our use of time. It’s similar to the Parable ofThe Talents from last week, but in the Parable ofThe Minas,Jesus is speaking of time, not money. Please notice that in the talent’s parable, the servants are given different amounts of money, representing the different skills, gifts and such God gives to each believer.
In the mina’s parable, each servant is given the same number of minas, to symbolize that we are all given the same number of hours in a day. Note also how differently the servants are treated in the two parables. With that in mind, I encourage you to read Luke 19: 12-26 with fresh eyes. Let the story marinate in your heart to give the Spirit an opportunity to speak to you through it.
For “The Greatest Generation,” their service to the kingdom wasn’t a convenient pleasure cruise. They weren’t afraid of weekly, nitty gritty work like changing diapers, pouring out hundreds of little communion cups, washing pots and pans after a church supper, scrubbing windows and floors on congregational clean-up days and the like. The difference is, between them and too many in younger generations, their expectations were completely different. How about we stop trying to find ourselves and instead lose ourselves in service to others? Luke 17:33